I.Is Herbie Hancock the rightful heir to Miles Davis or is he just his heir? Miles Davis himself answered the question on which the spirits of jazz differ. Herbie Hancock is the only one of forty-five pianists who has been able to stand with John Coltrane’s most influential jazz musician of the past half century for more than three years. However, Hancock also aroused his mentor’s envy. Because the success Miles Davis had wanted to force with a younger audience since “In a Silent Way” at the end of the 1960s with his turn to electronically pimped funk jazz, Herbie Hancock recorded the album “Head Hunters” very cool for himself a little later. Herbie was apparently able to reap what Miles sowed.
But it is not that simple. Herbie studied with Miles what you could read in the gigantic pool of musicians of the silent magician from East St. Louis from his cryptic musical note boxes instead of from meticulously noted arrangements. But in this second great Miles Davis Quintet, Hancock’s membership fee was also substantial for the band. Without the pianist’s masterly sound, some of the new sounds would surely have gotten stuck in Miles Davis’ stuffed trumpet.
Therefore, the reverse would also be possible: Herbie sowed what Miles could still reap with the inclusion under the title “Bitches Brew”. In any case, the witch’s brew of the top class of 1969 was a premonition of everything that the following generations, who were to grow up with computers, mobile phones, digitalization and electronic equipment, would probably recognize as their acoustic world.
Herbie Hancock had an unmistakable flair for all upcoming trends and whatever was hip. From the beginning, he has been much more than a grand pianist and composer of songs that, when hardly written, have already become standards. Hancock is the modern musician as a sound engineer. This can be seen from each of his bubbly recordings, which has been bubbling up since the early 1970s, from the pianistic equipment that was lifted onto the stage in the studio and at concerts. “Head Hunters” had two synthesizers, an electric piano and a hybrid piano. At “Sunlight” four years later there were, in addition to the electric piano and a Hohner D 6 Clavinet, no less than nine different synthesizers for lots of bubbling noises and booming electronic beats. Hancock is depicted on the back of the record cover, surrounded by his instruments with eleven manuals, which only a human octopus could have sounded appropriate. The highlight in 1980 was the disco album “Monster”, on which Hancock added sixteen electronic keyboards and a grand piano.
Sampled by the hiphop group
The question is idle whether the effort was worthwhile musically. Herbie Hancock has become one of the most commercially successful musicians in the history of jazz, not least because hits like “Chameleon”, “Watermelon Man”, Canteloupe Island “,” Maiden Voyage “or” Rockit “are still whole and as snippets to be sampled outright epidemically by the hip hop group. To reduce the electronics guru to the economic track would be grossly negligent. Just listen to the recordings that Hancock recorded with Chick Corea in February 1978 on two Steinway grand pianos. Or the combination of Hancock’s keyboard arsenal with the fragile signals of the Kora player Foday Musa Suso under the title “Village Life” from 1985. No technical or electronic manipulation, also no limitation or compression tarnishes the recording of the two pianists – Hancock on the left, Hear Corea on the right channel – with their subtly flowing counterpoints. And the characteristic, untempered sound of the West African harp Kora by Musa Suso on the Yamaha DX-1 digital synthesizer with its variable intonation has been adapted to such an extent that it sounds as if antelope strings had been wound up and the plucked notes over one Bottle gourd reinforced.
Anyone who wants to get a handle on Herbie Hancock’s entire work has to hear their hands full. There are the wonderful recordings that he made under the band name V.S.O.P. brought out a long time ago; it is basically the Miles Davis Quintet without Miles Davis, with Freddie Hubbard as the appropriate representative. There is the soundtrack for the film “Round Midnight” by Bertrand Tavernier, for which he received an Oscar in 1986. Or you can listen to “Gershwin’s World” how Hancock manages the solo part in Ravel’s G major concerto and marvel at how sensitively reserved he accompanies the irresistible Joni Mitchell on “The Man I Love”. And of course you can hear him live, for example on his European tour last December in Germany. He published his autobiography two years ago. The last sentence is: “I can hardly wait to see what the next morning will bring.” A good motto for a great musician who is celebrating his eightieth birthday on Easter Sunday.